English | Ghanaian

Photo credit: provided by subject

Photo credit: provided by subject

I’m British, of Ghanaian and white English heritage. My mum came from England and my dad from Ghana. They met in the UK. My English grandparents were very concerned about how my parents would manage to combine their different cultures. I think my Dad tried very hard to become English, and we didn’t have access to any Ghanaian culture such as food, music, or history. My Dad lost contact with his family for a long time. Of course, my Dad still came from a culture that was very different to the British one. I don’t know how much this played a part in the problems they had in their marriage. I feel it was largely down to very different personalities!

Thankfully these ‘mixed’ relationships are so much more common and accepted these days, although some couples still face issues; acceptance from the families, friends or members of the public. We see more ethnically mixed relationships in the media today, and it’s become more normal. When my parents got married it was very unusual for a Black African man to marry a White English woman. My Mum had grown up with racist beliefs; they were a deeply embedded part of the collective British consciousness, a hangover from colonial times. In some ways we have moved on, but as we have seen recently racism hasn’t gone away. It’s important to remember that it’s too simplistic to imagine that by having higher numbers of interracial relationships and more mixed race kids in our society, that racism will just dissolve. It’s going to take more than that.

I didn’t grow up with Ghanaian culture so feel pretty much British. As I live, and have always lived, in predominantly White, rural parts of the UK, my previous partners have been White, as is my husband. This hasn’t been down to a racial ‘preference’ but due to the largely White population around me.

It took a long time for me to accept my identity and appearance, as a child and young woman I hated being mixed. This was due to the negative messages about Black and mixed people society gave me, which I internalised. It has felt like a long and complicated journey. This sounds shallow, and ageist, but I like the fact that my skin doesn’t seem to age very fast! I don’t buy into the whole idea of mixed-race kids or people being cuter or more beautiful than others, as I feel this is exoticisation, but I do think people who have a mix of genes from distant places often have interesting features! I am proud of who I am, and the challenges I’ve overcome.

As a child I experienced all the hideous racism people of colour went through in the 70s and 80s, overt abuse as well as the more subtle discrimination which still has the effect of ‘othering’ you and making you feel bad about yourself. I saw myself as freakish, and it really didn’t help that there were few other Black or Brown people around and that I didn’t get on with my Dad, or have any contact with his family. I struggled with my afro hair, and never knew what to do with it, how to take care of it or style it. I’ve learned some things, but even now don’t feel confident to experiment with wearing headscarves for example. White people have been, and continue to be, fascinated with my hair, asking me questions, touching it. As a child I received a lot of insults about my hair texture as well as my skin colour. I wanted to be White, and thought I was wrong to exist.

Nowadays I don’t experience overt racist abuse but the constant microaggressions, people asking where I’m really from, if I speak English, touching my hair, assuming I’m a care worker from London, can get me down. I live in a rural place, so most of the people I know or meet are White. It can feel very lonely, walking into a room and being the only Brown face, again and again. Yet when I go to urban places such as London, my identity crumbles. I feel as though my clothes are wrong, I sound wrong, don’t have the confidence around my blackness I see other Black and mixed-race people appearing to have. It’s complicated, and confusing, and I might never get to a place where I’m totally happy in my skin. And that’s OK. I’ve done a lot of work on my identity, through my writing, telling others’ stories and through therapy. But it doesn’t feel fully resolved. I still have days where I don’t like what I see in the mirror, or feel sad that my friends and husband will possibly never understand how hard and confusing it has been.

I connect to British culture in a big way, and like being British (in some ways, not all). I love our quirks and awkwardness and sense of humour, our obsession with the weather. I haven’t really connected with being Ghanaian, and haven’t visited Ghana yet, although I hope to do so. I’m in contact with some of my cousins now, so that’s been great, but it’s hard when you don’t grow up with family to feel totally connected to them or their culture. I think the main way I connect with being Black, or Black British, is through music. Since I was a teenager I’ve listened to Black artists. Often, the music helps me feel that others understand my journey, in some way.

My outlook on my mixed identity has definitely changed over the years. As a child I internalised racism to the point where I thought White people were better than Black people. As I grew up, and later when I began to learn about Black British history and the history of racism, colonialism and Empire, this began to change. I now see being mixed as more positive than I used to, it’s been tough but I wouldn’t change it.